On canvasing this year's potential No. 1 overall draft picks and finding nothing but warts and question marks, I've finally given in. I'm through with paranoia. I'm finished with borrowing future problems. And so I present to you, dear reader, a treatise that will serve me well in 2015:
How I learned to stop worrying and love Marshawn Lynch.
I've been at the vanguard of Lynch paranoia for years. The Seattle Seahawks RB has a history of back problems, legal troubles and behavioral weirdness, but the most salient concerns when it comes to Lynch are related to his workload:
Lynch is just the 15th running back in NFL history to eclipse 280 carries in four straight seasons (and, incidentally, the 22nd to top 300 touches in four straight seasons).
Since our prime concern is the fear of a Beast Mode breakdown, let's put his workload in historical context. There have been eight seasons in NFL history in which a player entering his age-29 campaign was coming off at least four straight years of 280-plus carries:
Surprisingly, there's not a complete fantasy dud in this bunch. However, it should be noted that in their age-28 seasons, these eight RBs averaged 337 carries, 1,382 rush yards and 12 TDs. So on average there was a decrease at age 29, though absolutely not a fatal one.
In the interest of full disclosure, here are the age-30 RBs who were coming off at least four straight seasons of 280-plus carries:
Clearly, we start to see some real workload attrition here, as players wear down. And finally, here are the RBs over 30 who've come off at least four straight seasons of 280-plus carries:
All these numbers tell us two things. First, the wall is approaching for Lynch. Second, the end probably won't come in his age-29 season. If Lynch merely hits the average of the RBs in the age-29 category above, he'll produce totals that would've seen him finish seventh or eighth among fantasy backs in '14.
But I think that's Lynch's floor. I began this story with a historical analysis to rid us of the notion that Lynch is automatically doomed in '15 -- he's not! -- so I could examine last year's game tape with fresh eyes. And folks: It's impressive. Lynch lost nothing off his fastball last year.
ProFootballFocus marked Lynch down for 88 missed tackles last year, 21 more than the next-highest RB. (Only six RBs had more than half as many missed tackles as Lynch.) PFF also measured Lynch at an NFL-best 3.0 yards per carry after contact. He was, simply speaking, the most difficult man to tackle in pro football, despite the fact that at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, he's not one of the biggest backs in the league. Is Lynch a power back? Of course he is. But he's also an intelligent cutter and deceptively quick when he needs to take lateral steps. There isn't much wasted motion or pitter-patter of his feet, as Lynch is a textbook example of short-area explosiveness. Yes, he's great when he goes north-south, but he can get side-to-side with minimal effort and make plays around the edge, too.
Here's a simple fact: Lynch has been the best RB in fantasy over the past four years. It's not close. He has racked up 914 fantasy points (scoring double-digit TDs in each campaign), while the next-closest RB (LeSean McCoy) scored 825. As recently as January, when the Seahawks marched to their second-straight Super Bowl, Lynch looked like the league's premier RB, and Seattle will almost certainly continue to ride a run-heavy formula moving forward.
Remove age from the equation and I don't think there's much of an argument: Lynch deserves to be the highest-rated RB on your board. Of course, we can't completely disregard age, but my analysis shows that while age-29 RBs coming off major workloads have fallen off a bit, they've performed well. That's why I've stopped worrying. While he brings increased risk, Lynch should be the first player off fantasy draft boards this summer.
Relax. Fret about tomorrow, tomorrow. Enjoy Beast Mode.